A vesting agreement has been initialled that will ultimately transfer ownership of Te Puia and New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute from the Crown to iwi.
Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell and the Whakarewarewa Joint Trust initialled the agreement at a ceremony at Te Puia today.
The Whakarewarewa Joint Trust is a joint trust between two Te Arawa iwi, Ngati Whakaue and Wahiao Tuhourangi.
Mr Flavell said it was an important event for a Rotorua and an important step in strengthening the relationship between the Crown and Ngati Whakaue and Wahiao Tuhourangi.
"It's [Te Puia] already a vibrant business, an icon in the tourism scene," he said.
"Iwi members have been instrumental in the operation and success of Te Puia and the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute.
"This has occurred by supporting the retention and development of ahurea (culture) and toi (arts and crafts) Maori, as well as providing training in whakairo (carving) and raranga (weaving)."
Mr Flavell said with good governance and management there was huge potential to build on that.
The land on which Te Puia Maori Arts and Craft Institute operates in the Whakarewarewa Valley - the Whakarewarewa Thermal Springs Reserve and Southern Arikikapakapa Reserve - was returned to iwi in 2009.
"This vesting agreement will complete the process of recognising the significant cultural, traditional, historical and spiritual association of Ngati Whakaue and Wahiao Tuhourangi with this area and Te Puia," Mr Flavell said.
The initialling ceremony is the first step in finalising the vesting of Te Puia in the iwi.
Relevant iwi members will now have the opportunity to vote in support or opposition to the vesting through the endorsement process.
"The endorsement process is an important opportunity for iwi members to learn about the nature of the agreement, how the iwi groups will work together to provide a smooth transition to the new ownership, and understand the benefits of the agreement," he said.
At the conclusion of that process, an official signing of the Vesting Agreement will take place.
The agreement also ensures the pan-iwi cultural functions provided by the Maori Arts and Craft Institute in training the next generation of carvers, weavers and sculptors will continue.
Whakarewarewa Joint Trust chairman Malcolm Short said it was a memorable occasion for the two groups to finally arrive at that table.
"It's been a long journey, 2008 was a long time ago, but we had the resolve to see it through," he said. "I would like to say a heartfelt thank you from us as trustees to all those who made this happen."
Mr Short, who affiliates to Ngati Whakaue, said Te Arawa people created Te Puia.
"It was created by our people, it's on our land, so why shouldn't they give it back to us?" he said.
Wahiao Tuhourangi trustee Donna Hall said the two iwi had a good track record of working together.
Both Mr Short and Mrs Hall said they absolutely wanted to see Te Puia succeed as a business.
"It will be run well and efficiently," Mrs Hall said.
Te Puia chief executive Tim Cossar said the ceremony was the next step in the ongoing process of vesting the operation back to the agreed future owners.
"It is good to see this process progressing, and we look forward to further discussions as they develop," he said.
"In the meantime, our focus continues to be on running the business effectively and efficiently, fulfilling our legislative mandate, and ensuring it is in the best position possible for the new owners once the process is complete."
He said Te Puia New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute had been through an exciting period of growth in recent times, including the $22 million developments currently under way.
"These site developments - the Wananga Precinct and Wharekai (restaurant and function facilities) are critical in order to better service both the needs of manuhiri (visitors), and our tutors and students in NZMACI as part of our mandate to protect and perpetuate Maori arts and craft.
"Importantly, these developments are being undertaken without incurring any debt for the organisation, utilising existing cash reserves and a Tourism Development Grant from the New Zealand Government."
A timeline of the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and Te Puia
1325 - The Maori Fortress Te Puia is estimated to have occupied the site at Whakarewarewa.
1927 - The original carving school, Te Ao Marama, was opened on the shores of Lake Rotorua, at Ohinemutu by Sir Apirana Ngata.
1937 - The school was closed due to the economic recession and imminent onset of World War II.
1963 - Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley was chosen as the site for a new carving school.
1967 - With the passing of the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute Amendment it became recognised as a national institute.
2005 - The tourism sector of NZMACI was rebranded as Te Puia.
2008 - The Whakarewarewa Joint Trust was established between Ngati Whakaue and Wahiao Tuhourangi.
2009 - The Whakarewarewa Thermal Springs Reserve and Southern Arikikapakapa Reserve was gifted back to the Whakarewarewa Joint Trust.
2017 - The initialling of a vestment agreement to give NZMACI and Te Puia back to the Whakarewarewa Joint Trust.